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Times are hard. Everywhere, families, businesses and non-profit agencies are struggling to make ends meet - and the Hicksville Boys & Girls Club, which relies heavily on state funding, is no exception.

Since 1972, the non-profit agency has been providing structured programs and activities as well as crisis intervention, information/referrals and advocacy to Hicksville youth ages 11-21 and their families, all free of charge. Staffed by experienced professionals and led by a board of directors, the club currently provides programs in outreach/education, counseling, employment and leisure time activities. The club's mission is to be "a source of support for adolescents, parents and the entire community."

However, despite its vitality, the club could be forced to close its doors due to New York State Governor David Paterson's proposed budget, which includes millions of dollars in state aid cuts, particularly in the form of a Youth Programs Block Grant.

According to Tom Bruno, director of the club, passage of the state spending plan in its current form would have a "devastating effect" on the 35-year-old youth services agency for two reasons. "One, it puts youth programs under the same financial umbrella as youth prevention services and detention programs. Two, it gives the funds to counties to be disbursed as they see fit, rather than delivering them directly to municipalities, eliminating youth boards and youth bureaus throughout the state," Bruno told the Hicksville Illustrated News.

Presently, the agency receives more than three quarters of its annual funding through some form of aid, apportioned as follows: 30 percent straight state, 44 percent in county aid (which is partially funded by the state) and 10 percent in Town of Oyster Bay aid. The remaining 16 percent is received through fundraising, corporate and charitable trust grants and from the United Way of Long Island.

If the budget is approved, a large portion of the funding that the club relies on would be "block granted" for the first time, said Bruno. "I have been director of this agency since 1990 and in all my years of working with young people, I have never witnessed such mindless draconian cuts to a youth service system that is nationally recognized as a premier youth service system in this country," he said. "If such occurred, it would have a devastating effect on youth service programs throughout the entire state."

At this time, Bruno said the only definite number known is that funding from the New York State Office of Children and Family Services will be reduced by 25 percent. In the 2007-2008 budget, these programs received $118 million statewide; under the block grant, however, the number would shrink to $90 million. The aid to localities, such as Nassau County, is determined by a per capita basis.

"At our current funding levels, we should be able to continue our services through April, 2009," said Bruno. "[By then], the state budget should be resolved and we would have a better understanding of our funding levels."

In the meantime, the club is reaching out for support. Emergency meetings were held Jan. 21 and Jan. 28 and dozens of concerned citizens were on hand to express support, brainstorm ideas and form committees. Bruno said the club also plans to reach out to corporate sponsors, research and apply for grants and conduct fundraisers. "The one thing that we must do is reduce our dependence on government dollars ... We need to meet with financially secure major businesses in our community to raise awareness of our situation and secure financial support from them," he said, adding that reaching out to local officials is also necessary to make them aware why services offered by the club are so important and what impact the cuts could have. "[We] are requesting the removal of this block grant from the budget," Bruno said, adding that, to date, "None of the representatives that we have spoken to are in favor of block granting to the municipalities ..."

Apprised of the situation, Assemblyman Rob Walker met with Bruno to discuss alternative funding options. Besides looking at the possibility of providing grants to the club from the state, should Walker have access to any this year, the assemblyman is planning to host a fundraiser in the spring. All proceeds will go to the club so that it may continue to provide the programs and services that are vital to the children of the community.

"During these troubling economic times we in government need to make sure that these types of community based programs that reach our children are not forgotten," Walker said. "It is imperative that we find the resources necessary to keep the Hicksville Boys & Girls Club open."

Senator Craig Johnson said, "I am sensitive to the valuable public service provided by [the club], and other local programs and organizations that are slated for aid reductions under the governor's proposed spending plan." He added, however, "While these are incredibly trying economic times for our state, this is a very fluid budget process. I believe that through common sense reforms that make New York's bloated government more streamlined and less costly, and the smart allocation of potential federal stimulus funds, among other measures, we will be able to mitigate some of these cuts and develop a fiscally responsible budget that also takes into account the needs of all New York residents."

According to Harry Single, club president, today's uncertain economy, coupled with government cuts in programs, the club is facing the very unhappy reality that if it doesn't get the help and support it needs from corporate and personal donations, it may have to close the very place that is a vital source of relief for so many local youth. "In a world where it is so easy for a child to go wrong, this club has been a place where they can come and always feel safe," said Single. "We talk about the fact that the children are our future, but usually the first thing cut in government budgets are programs for the youth. Do we really want to turn them all out to the street where odds are a number of them will get into some sort of trouble? Do we care about our youth or is it just a politically correct thing to say when we tell people that the youth of America are the backbone of our society."

For Single, time is of the essence. "We really need your help now. The kids need your help for their future. Let's continue to help develop the leaders of tomorrow. It may be hard but we cannot turn our backs on the kids." He continued, "The services that the club provides to the youth and families are essential for the positive growth of our children and well-being of our families. [If the club closes,] our children will be out on the street. We need to make sure that these programs continue."

Bruno added, "My outlook is if this block grant is passed as proposed by the governor, it will have a devastating effect on this community. There is a very strong possibility that this agency will close its doors ... Once this youth service system is dismantled, it can never be reconstructed."

For further information or to lend support or make a donation, call the Hicksville Boys & Girls Club at 822-KIDS. Additionally, donations can be made online by visiting www.hycbgc.com and clicking on the "Make Online Donation" link.


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